What I’m Learning About Love

What I’m Learning About Love

Clearly, learning to truly love people is not an assignment that will ever be checked off my to-do list. It’s a lesson I’ll still be studying on my last day.

Here are my thoughts so far.

As I’m taking my early morning walk down the familiar path … I look ahead to see a woman walking towards me. Another person I’m supposed to love. “Ugh … Lord, please help me to love all these strangers!” “No worries”, He says. “You don’t have to feel love for them—you just have to act like you love them.” Oh yes, now I remember the plan:

Look into her/his face. Smile big. Say good morning in my happiest voice. If she/he starts a conversation, listen intently and make a kind reply. Repeat…

Many years ago the book The Renewed Mind, by Larry Christenson marked my life in a unique and lasting way concerning how to love people. In my loose translation, the author says we believers are to put on (wear) fruits of the Spirit. Then, by faith, God will make a permanent change in our hearts. It’s a collaborative team effort. Christenson says we build a form and God fills it. As an analogy he describes the wooden form that a carpenter builds to hold a cement foundation. After the cement is poured, it hardens. Then the temporary form isn’t needed because the concrete is permanent. The wooden frame is a picture of our role in learning to love. I don’t have the power on my own to make myself loving; but I am capable of going through the outward motions. Then God, in His infinite power, pours himself into the habits (frame) I’ve erected, creating a permanent solid foundation of love. The temporary frame (acting like I love) can be discarded. This is really a picture of our sanctification; changing to be more like Christ.

The book continues with a great analogy—it’s one I’ve recalled many times since I first read the book.

“Sarah” lives beside a very annoying woman. Similarly to me, she wonders why she can’t be patient and love her neighbor. She begins her “form” with a board called listening. It doesn’t matter that the neighbor never listens to her; she begins patiently listening to her neighbor and getting to know her. The second board Sarah adds is prayer; she begins to pray for her neighbor’s family to be blessed. Thirdly, Sarah offers to do something nice for her neighbor, even though her neighbor wouldn’t think of being nice to her! Maybe she’ll take her a small gift or offer to help with the children. The last board needed for Sarah’s foundation is kind comment. The other neighbors are just as repelled by the neighbor as Sarah is. Sarah, however, decides to drop into conversations, true and kind comments about their annoying neighbor. The nails that hold that frame together are called faith. We need faith to believe that all this stuff is possible. That it’s not a crazy futile exercise. We have to believe that as we’ve practiced loving acts, God will fill them in with His divine love.

Over my many years I have seen amazing things happen after I’ve taken the steps to act in a loving way. Many times Tom and I have hosted small groups. Sometimes I wasn’t excited about the prospective members because they looked old, boring and maybe a little difficult to be around. Only later did I realize that most of them were younger than me and not only were they not boring, we’d even grow to appreciate the ways they were different from us. Time after time Tom and I became close to people that were very randomly grouped together; we looked forward to being with them. We actually cared for them and loved them. A miracle!  Sometimes it’s fun to watch how God will bring folks together instead of trying to orchestrate a group yourself!

I’ve learned so much, also, from C.S. Lewis. He shares in a slightly different vein about LOVE. Discussing the teaching of hating a bad man’s actions but not hating the man, he says,

“It occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this my whole life—namely myself. However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. There had never been any difficulty about it. In fact the very reason I hated the things was that I loved the man. Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things. Consequently, Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery. We ought to hate them. Not one word of what we have said about them needs to be unsaid. But it does want us to hate them in the  same way in which we hate things in ourselves; being sorry that the man should have done such things, and hoping, if it is anyway possible, that somehow, sometime, somewhere he can be cured and made human again.

Mere Christianity

I can’t wait to have a conversation with that man in heaven!

I’d really love to hear your adventures in learning how to love people!

Don’t Quit in the Middle

Years ago, around the time I was birthing babies #3 and #4, I quit right in the middle of a sewing project. I’d imagined how cute my gray dress would be, after perusing the gigantic pattern book and choosing the perfect one. I’d purchased the fabric and cut out the pattern per directions. Then I quit. I accomplished the easy and fun part by the impetus of my imagination, but quit right when the project became difficult. I felt terrible about my(frugal)self when I FINALLY tossed that pretty gray fabric, already poised to be a stylish dress. My approximate expenses were $7.00, three hours and weeks of self-degradation. It was a failure; but not exactly a life-altering one.

Some quitting, however, produces dire results.

Awhile back I took a sweaty walk around “the loop” at Wrightsville Beach. I started to think of this subject of quitting. As I walked, I recalled a recent conversation with a friend who’d just retired. She said, “I wonder if I should have retired earlier; our time together is just so precious.” I looked at her, a bit shocked, replying, “Precious? I remember when your marriage was anything but precious…that season when awful things occurred and your marriage was hanging by a thread. When anger and hurt permeated your days”. I wanted to be sure she knew how profound her choice of adjectives was.

Precious: Of great value or high price. Highly esteemed or cherished.

We both teared up. We realized that it was by God’s Grace and their commitment to their vows that they now had more richness than they could’ve imagined; more than seemed feasible.

I was still dripping in 100% humidity as I continued my walk, still pondering the earlier chat with my friend. She and her husband could have quit in the middle and the fallout would have been devastating, causing ripple effects in the family and community. But they didn’t quit! I’d seen her smile and sensed her contentment—tangible fruits of righteousness.

One caveat: I understand that some marriages are not salvageable. I experienced a divorce in my early twenties, after trying everything in my power to keep it together. I then became even more passionate about the importance of fighting for marriage.

Statistics show that most couples who come to the brink of divorce and then decide rather to work on their marriages, actually become much happier in later years than they once were. Sometimes we have to navigate pain and struggles before we see the sweet fruit!

I thought of my Tom. We’re so happy and in love. But there have been many times when, behind the smiles on our faces, there was anger, hurt and resentment. Those years I wrote about earlier when we “passed like ships in the night” Marriage is So Much Trouble. When intimacy was a job to check off the to-do list. The times when I had unhealthily learned to “turtle” as Bob Goff likes to say. My natural response was pulling away—head in, tail in, arms and legs in. And I thought myself “nice” because I didn’t outwardly express anger. Then I learned that silence and withdrawing are just as negative a response.

 And if one person is vulnerable to attack, two can drive the attacker away. As the saying goes, “A rope made of three strands is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:12

I’m convinced that the reason we didn’t give up and quit in the middle of our marriage was because of the Three Strand Cord. We have been able to stay true to our covenant with each other and with God because He has always been at the center, closely wrapped around us, even and especially in the hardest times. When life was anything but fun. When the dreamy days of flipping through the pages of a bridal magazine were replaced with poopy diapers, poopy bathrooms, tantrums, cleaning, an angry child, constant cooking, predawn sessions begging God for Grace to survive, and finally, another 24-hour day was completed. The season I learned to take one step in the right direction and to not stop. To say one more kind word and reach out with a gentle touch when I just wanted to be held and comforted myself. Some days, weeks and even years were so hard to bear that it’s painful for me to remember now. But the gift of growing older is to see a broader clearer perspective. To see that He really was faithful and He really had a plan all along. And all the not-quitting was truly worth the sacrifices.

We got married to be together. For better or worse. Guard your heart. Guard your eyes. Put on love. One touch here. A kiss there. A kind word. Love is made up of lots of little decisions. Let’s wear LOVE like a coat. Let’s wrap our SELVES completely in it.

Since you are all set apart by God, made holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with a holy way of life: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Put up with one another. Forgive. Pardon any offenses against one another, as the Lord has pardoned you, because you should act in kind. But above all these, put on love! Love is the perfect tie to bind these together. Let your hearts fall under the rule of the Anointed’s peace (the peace you were called to as one body), and be thankful. Colossians 3:12-15

Blindly Going

The year was 1980 and I was en route to my OB/GYN. You will think this odd, but I always looked forward to my regular appointment.

I found out I was pregnant with my second child at about the same time my husband decided to leave our marriage. It was not something I ever imagined going through and my pain was almost unbearable.

In the doctor’s pretty and quiet waiting area, I would sit in a comfortable cushy chair. I’d pile up as many magazines as I could gather on my diminishing lap, and hope the wait to see my doctor was extra long.

Back home in my little 900 square foot house my dear friend was watching my two-year-old little boy along with a set of twin boys, also two, and about three other kids, depending on the day.

I certainly had very little time for reading at home. There was no extra money to buy magazines so I perused as many as possible while I enjoyed having a babysitter. No matter what the exam entailed, the appointment was a break for me.

I’d opened a small daycare in my home to support my family. Having taught public school, including kindergarten, I was familiar with the art of childcare. My wonderful friends helped me by transferring their kids from other daycare centers and placing them in my care. It was an extremely difficult season but one where God’s grace shone bright.

All of these memories flooded into my thoughts a couple of months ago when I decided to take a walk across the Lake Murray dam in Columbia. I wasn’t really dressed for a warm four mile walk, but I happened to be in the area for a job with a client, so I couldn’t resist.

I began the walk along the concrete path and looked across the water which appeared to have no end. Instantly, the endless water triggered thoughts of that earlier time when my future was an endless scary blurry unknown —when going to the doctor was the highlight of my week. I’d been in a season of looking out over my life having no clue what was ahead; or how anything would turn out.

I would soon have my second child and I couldn’t know then that my daughter, Dawn, would have severe cognitive deficits. Her lack of appropriate development and need for constant attention would add a very difficult and complicated challenge to our little family’s life.

On my way to the doctor visit that morning so many years ago, I heard God speak clearly to me. Not audibly, but just as certain— I saw a picture in my mind. I was praying along the drive there about my life and how in the world was I going to make it!? As clearly as could be, I heard God speak that I was going to be fine because I was planted on the Rock. That I hadn’t built my life on shifting sands. These words referred to a familiar scripture (Matthew 7:24-27) and the message was simple enough.

It was just what I needed to hear that morning in order to keep going. One step at a time; one day at a time.

Earlier, when I was a teenager, I’d established continual communication with the Lord through the Holy Spirit. Diving into God’s Word had become a consistent habit in my life. In the darkest times, truth and hope became congruent and magnified during my desperate need for guidance.

Abraham traveled, by faith, to a land he did not know (Hebrews 11:8).

As a young woman with a toddler, pregnant and alone, I also saw myself going blindly into an unknown land. I continued to trust in the truths that had been spoken, and persist in the hope that I’d one day have a decent life. In case I sound emotionally “strong”, let me assure you that I felt very weak. There were so many times I felt like I couldn’t change another diaper, or survive another tantrum or comfort my daughter through the night when morning would come so quickly. That I’d never be able to enjoy a so-called normal life. But I also recognized the Holy Spirit coaxing me to keep going (without seeing).

I’m only telling you my story to encourage you, no matter what you’re going through. The great thing about living more years than some of your friends (a nice way to say “being older”) is that your retrospection is longer! I look back now with joy deep down; so grateful for my life. I couldn’t see this clearly years earlier; it’s taken me many years of closeness with Jesus to come to this place. So, don’t give up, my friends! I believe there is more good ahead for you, too. I am truly fine! And I believe you will be fine, too. In the meantime, keep pressing on and keep building a close relationship with Jesus. He’s the friend that sticks closer than a brother.

Just this morning, my long time companion, Oswald (Chambers) told me this:

“If we are going to live as disciples of Jesus, we have to remember that all noble things are difficult. The Christian life is gloriously difficult, but the difficulty of it does not make us faint and cave in, it rouses us up to overcome. Do we so appreciate the marvelous salvation of Jesus Christ that we are our utmost of His highest?”  

(July 7 entry from “My Utmost for His Highest”)

“Gloriously difficult”– sometimes he makes me laugh, but he speaks truth! Carry on, Beloved!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Me

I found a little bit of myself today.

I’d been planting a small garden in our yard. Not “officially summer” and already 97 degrees! Into the soil that I’d mounded high went large rocks and flowers from Lowe’s. And the big chunks of beautiful granite, quartz and other natural pieces of earth we found scattered around our yard when we moved in. So I incorporated them into the “design”. Actually, I kept adding stuff with little rhyme or reason. I stuck a “birdbath” in the center — a terra-cotta saucer atop a plant cage. The birds love it!

The only considerations were: flowers had to be shade loving and deer resistant. I’ve since learned that deer-resistant is a bit of a misnomer since our deer neighbors are not that predictable. We are living in their “home” after all. I keep hoping they’ll get lost before they traipse through our yard in the wee hours!

That familiar sense of “me” happened when I tossed two old colorful flowered pillows on the cute white wooden swing.

I found the swing at a popular resale store in Columbia. Tom built a frame for it and hung it in our yard. After the pillows landed, my eyes darted to a little yellowish pot that I’d picked up on trash day—I added it to the scene.

Most of my life I’ve had to pinch pennies so it’s kind of natural for me to use what I have instead of going out and buying something new. It’s fulfilling for me. I think my penny pinching ways are partly from our frugal parents and partly a necessity I learned when I was a single Mom and didn’t have two nickels to rub together.

Anyway, something clicked today. For one of the first times since moving here I remembered how I love to stage and decorate by using what’s at hand. And, of course, I enjoy shopping for home stuff when I need something, too! I don’t dumpster dive only. LOL

I’ve had a lot of sad moments in the last year-and-a-half. If I’m honest, a lot of sad days. Never ever did I want to leave our home of 30 plus years; that my husband mostly built with his own hands. I expected to live out all our days there. Here’s a link to the back story! Moving

But God had other plans as He sometimes does. We Christians may seem a peculiar brood in a lot of ways. We live by faith.

 The path we walk is charted by faith, not by what we see with our eyes. 2 Corinthians 5:7

We don’t make our life choices according to what we naturally desire at the moment. We inquire of God and act on the way we believe He’s leading.

A few years ago, my husband, Tom, was in the market for a new job. After months of praying together for God’s plan to unfold, it happened. He was invited to interview for a position in a hospital in Columbia, SC.  God knew we’d much prefer to stay in Wilmington, (I told Him often enough!). But after the interview, Tom received a job offer so swiftly that it made our heads spin! We came to know and firmly believe that moving to Columbia was what God had in mind for us.

So here we are in South Carolina. Tom has a job he absolutely loves! I’m still adjusting to the house, yard, neighborhood and people. Still missing our niche in Wilmington. I constantly remind myself that we’re here for purposes we may not fully know. Come to think of it, that’s also true of life in general!

What I mean when I say that I found myself is this: I’ve gotten out of the habits I was so deeply invested in. Having family over for Sunday dinners. Getting together with girlfriends and neighbors. Having friends to dinner or hosting parties for all the occasions. Serving folks in my Staging and Organizing business.

I realized when I tossed those pillows on the swing that the way I’m wired hasn’t curled up and died. My gifts for gathering people and warming up our home so people will feel loved and welcomed. This is who I am. I just haven’t known how to be that person in a different place.

Even when it’s difficult I’m determined to be intentional about fulfilling the roles God’s designed for me. Even here. Tonight our neighbors are joining us on the porch for watermelon and conversation.

I hope I can encourage a sister by my journey. We all have stories; each one unique. Mine may presently seem simple compared to those of deep suffering. But, for now, this is my story and my struggle, simple as it may be.

Have you experienced loss or change that’s caused you to misplace yourself? I’ve been surprised to find that it’s hard to replicate myself in a new community. People have been most kind; but it’s not easy to make friends with people who are rich in life-long relationships.

Let’s encourage each other to keep our eyes on the Prize! If we’re breathing, Jesus isn’t finished with us. Let’s be faithful to the life He’s designed for us wherever we find ourselves today!

 

 

Scars

My husband, Tom, has an ugly scar on his leg. Sometimes he jokes about it, teasing about how “attractive” his legs are. The scar is no joke to me. I think it’s beautiful. A recurring reminder of God’s continued faithfulness. I can instantly go back in my mind to the day he acquired the scar. It was summer; I’d just gotten home after watching John and Katherine in swim lessons at the Southside Pool. Right after arriving, I got the call. “Your husband was run over by a forklift–he may live, but he’ll probably lose his legs”. Adrenaline instantly rushed through me—taking over my fears. I quickly called my dear in-laws; father-in-law, Dub, was over in no time.
I got to New Hanover Hospital at just the time the ambulance arrived from the paper mill in Riegelwood, NC; transporting that precious person who is my whole life. I soon learned that Tom had been walking around outside, overseeing a project when a huge industrial forklift struck him from behind running over him and crushing his legs.
I waited several hours to see him. All the while making calls to friends and family; updating them and asking for prayer. It’s hard to picture a time with no cell phones. I remember sitting in a guest room, waiting my turn to use the phone provided there.
I surprised myself at how composed I was and how my “introverted self” greeted people I knew and paper mill employees that I didn’t know. Again, thank you God for your design; for adrenaline!
The story that could have been a life altering tragedy couldn’t have turned out better. I cannot tell you how incredibly thankful I was. My heart was literally overflowing with joy over my husband’s life being spared. All the other problems seemed so small in comparison.
Scars; the interesting thing about them is that they’re not all as visible as Tom’s scar from that accident of over 20 years ago.
I have a few scars on my body, like the time a snow ski hit my leg, but most of my scars are hidden from sight. Healed scars are like stones of remembrance. The experiences the scars represent have changed me for the better. In every case, they are experiences I’d never ask for and ones I’d never wish on anyone. But, nevertheless, they’re a huge part of life. Even a necessary part.
I have a scar from experiencing one of a mama’s worst fears; having a severely handicapped child. First there were the shocks of one diagnosis after another. Then, for nearly every season of her entire life there have been challenges. One of the keys in getting through is taking one step at a time. The long span of difficulties and unanswered questions in toto would be completely overwhelming.
Another scar came from the loss of my first husband. I felt like a widow; but I also had to acknowledge that I wasn’t wanted. I loved that man and was completely committed to him for life. But other choices; bad choices, were made. Ones that left me, my son and baby in utero out of the picture. There were so many difficult years. It took me a long time to heal from constant hurt. But at the same time there is a part of me now that doesn’t want to completely forget how I felt going through such pain. I want to remember enough to weep with others who are in similar scenarios. Those kinds of afflictions can really change us for the better if we let them. God was so near and real. I look back and know He used the deepest pain to help me surrender more fully to Him and His Ways. We experience comfort from the Holy Spirit, and in turn share that very same comfort with others who are hurting.
Even now, in March 2019, I’m spending time with a young woman experiencing very much the same marriage breach that I did. I would never have the empathy to listen and encourage if I hadn’t walked through it myself. I can’t fix it for her, as much as I’d like. But I can cry and pray and assure her that God will see her through and will do much more than she can now imagine.
I wonder how Jacob felt when he wrestled with the heavenly being in Genesis 32. I often loosely compare myself. I’ve fought for a blessing from the Lord and for a righteous life and been left with a limp. I wonder if Jacob was glad for his limp; was it a significant milestone in his life?
Several years back I was chatting with a dear friend who also endured a painful divorce. She made the comment, “Don’t you just hate that we have that (divorce) as part of our history? I paused and thought a moment and then replied, “I don’t really hate it that much now; it’s become my limp, of sorts.” It’s a continual reminder of my journey pursuing God and finding Him always faithful.
How about you? Have you found a positive side to your difficult experiences? Are you even a little grateful for the hard stuff because of positive character being produced?
“You see, the short-lived pains of this life are creating for us an eternal glory that does not compare to anything we know here.” 2 Corinthians 4:17

Heal Thyself!

“Physician, heal yourself!” Luke 4:23

Have you ever been going along spiritually, humbly and holily, just minding your own business, when a voice inside says, “Teacher, teach yourself!”  or, in other words, “Practice what you preach.”? Ouch!

I had just finished a conversation with my daughter, Katherine, when I heard that sentiment.

I’m fortunate to have a daughter who speaks into my life like a close friend. She probably knows me best, next to her father. 🙂 I’d made a comment and she gently corrected me. She was referring to a very humble and holy point I’d made; valuable spiritual insight and wisdom concerning a friend. Honestly, my point had truth; it wasn’t devoid of wisdom. But it’s not my job to point out other people’s potential mistakes. Right after she made her comment, Katherine arrived at the site for her photo shoot. And we abruptly ended our chat.

The phone went quiet and I instantly heard that still small voice telling me in so many words, “You were speaking under the guise of “helping and teaching” but really you wanted to appear better than the other character in the story. You wanted to make sure your daughter knows you’re the #1 spiritually mature woman in her life.

How did I reply? “Yes, Lord! Thank you so much!” “This stuff really DOES work!” I can rejoice over His correction because I know He loves me. Not only was I glad; I also laughed. It’s good to have a sense of humor and see the irony. I’m nothing if not a life-long student. I know there will never come a day when I finish learning and graduate from “God School”.

I recently had the privilege of speaking at a couple of women’s events. I’m still slowly shaking my head as to why those people trusted me. Actually, they trusted God.

Anyway, among the points I made was this one, more or less: Jesus left the Holy Spirit to His disciples as a compensation for His departure. The good news for us is that we Christ followers have that same Holy Spirit living in us; the same power who raised Jesus from the dead! The Holy Spirit, among comforting, teaching and all the other benefits, also convicts us of sin and enables us to live victoriously!

So there I was; finding out again how Christ- following works! HE IS IN ME. He showed me my heart. It goes a lot deeper than my lovely sounding words. He not only showed me my heart, but He’s already giving me ideas as to how I can alter my thoughts, pray and act redemptively towards someone I love whom I don’t always agree with.

Remember that young shepherd boy, David? The prophet, Samuel was sent by God to Bethlehem, to a man named Jesse. Samuel’s task was to find and anoint one of Jesse’s sons to be the future king. Samuel observed the “tall, dark, handsome” sons, thinking that one of those must be the chosen one. But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

Finally, the youngest son, David came in from tending the sheep. Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.” 1 Samuel 16:12

After all, what matters most is what’s in our hearts. That’s what God sees; not our outer shell. God looks on the heart.

How to Curate Your Life

How to Curate Your Life

In the last couple of years, I’ve been very focused on making each hour and day count. You can ask my friends. When they’ve offered to pray, I’ve said, “I want to know my purpose and not waste time!” Maybe there’s something about realizing that you’re well into the second half of life, and that your days are numbered.

In my earlier years, I’d robotically accomplish the next thing. That’s the reality when you’re trying to keep four  young ones fed and happy!

Today’s different. There are so many dreams, ideas and opportunities clamoring for my attention. I’ve begun to see my life as a curation of sorts– learning to toss aside things that aren’t for me and attending to things that are.

 

curate: “to take charge of or organize.

to pull together, sift through, and select for presentation.

Eliza Jo & William

Imagine for a minute a beautiful, well curated, warmly lit art gallery such as The Smithsonian. On one wall do you find twenty renowned Renoir paintings? No, each incredible piece of art is encompassed by white space. We’re privileged to focus on one painting without distractions. The empty spaces help us to hone our focus.

Several years ago I helped a lady stage her house to sell. I remember her big smile and sweet disposition and how appreciative she was. Although she was a bit nervous about what I was doing with her belongings, she gave me full permission to shuffle things around. I quickly started removing stuff. Her home was clean and warm but crowded. Too crowded, I felt, for a positive presentation to prospective buyers. Some decorative pieces in the home needed to be culled and some curated. I was a bit uncomfortable as she watched me. “If you move that silk plant from the corner what will you put back in its place?”, she asked.

It was really difficult to imagine empty spaces —all the things had been in their assigned places for years. I tried to explain the concept of space and how it gives our eyes and minds rest and enables us to focus on a specific item. For instance, if there are multiple side tables, each one holding a large faux plant, we can be confused about what to look at and enjoy. There is also a practical benefit to having enough space in which to move around. To her credit, she allowed me to work my magic, accommodating me even while she didn’t fully understand. In the end, she agreed that her home was much more appealing, and it sold quickly.

The same kind of curation that takes place in staging a home to sell can also be helpful when arranging the homes we actually live in. The rearranging and culling can bring more comfort and peace.

Curation amounts to focus. The concept can be applied to a closet full of clothes, in which I’ve absolutely “nothing to wear”! Pare down items to the few comfortable things I love and wear daily and I’ve just curated my collection. The less we own in any category, the more we enjoy. Less doesn’t amount to deprivation, but valuing what’s important and needful.

I once moved to another state with my oldest two children. I packed everything we needed in my station wagon and headed down the highway. We stayed with a family for a few months while looking for a more permanent home.

During those months, I remember thinking that there was nothing I missed. I could actually live without all my other earthly belongings. It was a surprising lesson that never left me.

“Be yourself! Everyone else is already taken.”

When my kids were young, it was important for me to be involved in their schools. I’d say no when asked to head up a large project or to serve as an officer on a board. I’m more of a helper when it comes to big projects. I also wanted my time to be spent around students; especially my children. I ended up doing what I loved and teachers seemed to really appreciate it—I read to their classes. Years later I’d run into former students and they’d comment on the books we read together. It was so nice the way it worked out. Some folks who were gifted administrators and leaders took on the roles I didn’t, and vice versa. You do you. And I’ll do me.

As I’ve spent time in prayer honestly asking what my life’s roles and priorities are, God’s faithfully shown me. I’m committed to the roles He’s called me to focus on in these years.

“No one else can play your part.”

It’s a good feeling to realize all the things you aren’t meant to be or do. I’m not a famous singer, competitive athlete, fashion blogger, shop owner, office worker, nurse, or celebrity. Those things are white space around me. My simple curated life includes being a wife, mother/grandmother, friend, writer, mentor/encourager, a “lover of hospitality” and a stager/organizer. When I discipline myself to focus and work within my spheres, I accomplish more and have less time to obsess over what others are doing. When I spend time comparing myself to women I admire, I always come up short.

What about you, friend? Any thoughts about your life?

“Decide what kind of life you actually want.

Then say no to everything that isn’t that. 

Instagram @abbiepaulhus

Better a Neighbor Nearby

“Better a neighbor nearby than a relative far away.” 

It’s been nearly a year now since Shari invited all the neighbor ladies over for a party at her home. A party to say goodbye to me. I wasn’t the only one in tears that night. Honestly I was crying a lot last year. I didn’t want to move from our home or our neighborhood. But we knew God was pointing us in the direction of South Carolina, after a job offer had been made.

Twenty-six years earlier, Shari had greeted me with these words as I walked past her house, “I want to have a baby shower for you!” At that time as well, I was touched and honored. True to our neighborhood, the ladies came to Shari’s en masse, arms loaded with pink curly beribboned packages. As we sat around the cozy family room, little one-week-old Katherine was passed from mama to mama with all the oohs and aahs you might imagine. Shari had even crocheted a pink blanket for our baby girl.

Shari was the neighbor I really wanted to get to know over thirty years ago. We were busy women; she with three kids and me with eventually four. We’d hurriedly greet each other; she while entering her back door and me as I ran in and out of my front door. She always seemed to have her life together—she was continually planting something or painting something or engaged in a myriad of activities. I wasn’t sure if she needed or wanted another friend. Even that long ago, the neighborhood friendships were pretty well established and I didn’t know how we’d fit in.

There was no texting going on in the late eighties. One day I picked up the telephone from its base on the wall and called Shari to see if I could borrow some sugar. First of all, I needed some for the cookies I was baking. Secondly, it was a great opportunity to break the ice with my neighbor.

A cup of sugar here and there, neighborhood gatherings, chatting in the yard between houses, laughing together, sharing broken hearts and enduring long illnesses and deaths of neighbors who’d become like family. Those were the bricks gradually and carefully laid one atop another over a long span of time—forming a structure called friendship. After Shari became single and our kids were all grown, I’d occasionally ask her to share a meal or I’d walk over with a plate of left-overs. We’d take walks together and meet at restaurants for a late lunch after her pre-school teaching was over for the day. We’d go to movies and events; and she’s the one I’d call first when I needed a ride to the airport or the mechanic. I’d smile really big when I opened the front door to find a couple stalks of broccoli, some tiny just-dug red potatoes and long skinny green onions. I always looked forward to that little garden coming to life —I’d never seen someone have such success in a small plot of ground as Shari did.

A friendship doesn’t happen overnight. First someone has to make a move. Then come conversations with an emphasis on listening; hopefully many conversations; then you’ll become involved in each other’s lives. Finally, if everything goes well, the relationship will become meaningful and encouraging to both parties. The best friendships don’t need a lot of emotion to begin; just someone to take the first step. That step may eventually lead to an important relationship that you can’t imagine not having experienced.

You may say, “That’s all very well, but you don’t know my next door neighbor!” True; but just consider what your next step might be.

God tells me to first love Him and secondly love my neighbor as myself. Sometimes we just need to ask ourselves, “If I were that person next door in the same situation, how would I want to be treated?”

“Therefore, you should treat people in the same way you want people to treat you; this is the Law and the Prophets.” 

Now, I’m preaching to myself as I’m again connecting with new neighbors. Beginning is the hardest for me. With God’s help, I’m choosing to say yes to opportunities even when it’s uncomfortable.

Maybe today you’ll look at your neighbors through a different lens; they aren’t there by mistake.

“We make our friends, we make our enemies, but God makes our next door neighbor!”

G. K. Chesterton

 

 

Oh to be Alone

A few months ago, while waiting in a long line, I found myself listening to a conversation in a public place. There was mild irritation between a husband and wife who were disagreeing over a minor issue concerning a child. A mom, who wasn’t acquainted with the couple, commented to the wife that she was so glad she no longer had to endure arguing. She and her husband were divorced and she was happy to make decisions for her child alone, without friction. In my mind a lightbulb instantly went off and I knew this was something to ponder. Oh to be alone.

In the last six months I’ve had many thoughts about togetherness and aloneness and their results. My husband and I lived weekdays apart for about one and a half years. He’d taken a job in another state and I stayed home to take care of necessary things, such as our daughter’s wedding and helping out with our first grandchild. I was surprised and a bit concerned to find how relatively easily we adapted to living alone week after week. Sure, we’d look forward to our times together. But in between we learned to adjust quite well to an independent self-serving routine. Even sleeping alone had it’s advantages. Let’s just say that for me, it was a much quieter, restful sleep. Acclimating again to the sound of snoring wasn’t easy.

Soon after I moved to Columbia, my husband and I drove to Lowe’s to purchase a clothes dryer. We were turning into the parking lot and I rolled my eyes at the unorthodox, roundabout way he maneuvered into the spot. I said to him, tongue-in-cheek, “Tom, if you would just do everything exactly like I do things, and you’d say things exactly like I say them, you’d never bug me and we’d get along perfectly.” We laughed, and I acknowledged to myself that this was my Achilles’ heel in a nutshell. Selfishness. There is in all of us a natural impulse to do things our own way. We’re aware of these tendencies in all human relationships, but none more than marriage.

Occasionally married couples live apart for a season because of  jobs or when a spouse is deployed. Understandable. Just recently I was chatting with a girlfriend about a mutual friend. The husband and wife were living separately while the husband was employed in a different city. My girlfriend said, “You know, I can really see how that could be easier”. I thought, ” Of course!”  It’s easier to be alone—you have only yourself to consider.

Sometimes I wonder why people want to get married in the first place.  I mostly wanted a man to love me and make me happy. I was a follower of Christ and I’d read Scripture and books about marriage. I knew a lot, I thought. But what part of my plan would make his life better? Do we go into that very important relationship thinking, “Now I get to really serve another person up close. I finally get to wash someone elses’ dirty underwear and clean up the messes someone leaves in the kitchen.” I may even occasionally need to hold my tongue or change the way I squeeze the tube or load the dishwasher! What’s needed in a particular moment might be affirmation and a loving touch, even if I don’t feel like it.

Some people live alone in different geographical areas due to work or other responsibilities. Others live alone even while under the same roof. I worry about them all. I truly believe that a marriage’s default is separation. None of us really need to work at focusing on ourselves; we have to work to keep our marriage covenant the priority. I’m afraid couples don’t know how easily they can lose what was once the Most Important Thing. Marriage isn’t an organism that magically keeps two people together. It’s an organism that requires its parts to work in a coordinated fashion to keep it going.

While nothing has revealed to me my self-focus and self-preservation like marriage, absolutely nothing has brought me more purpose and joy. Our marriage hasn’t been perfect in every way, but it has gotten better and better over the years as we have gotten better at surrendering to Jesus and putting each other first.  The covenant of unending and unmerited love for another person. The adapting to the other in a way to actually change the person I am, and grow the person that he is. It’s just one of the most beautiful, meaningful arrangements divinely appointed to humans.

When asked his secret of love, being married fifty-four years to the same
person, he said, “Ruth and I are happily incompatible.”
Billy Graham

Reaping Where I Didn’t Sow

I stepped outside into a beautiful April morning and did a little trimming in our mini-yard. Compared to the acre we lived on earlier, this yard is on the tiny side. I stumbled into a small spot in between our house and Debbie’s. There, hidden away, was the most beautiful profuse light-blush-colored rose bush.

I was reminded again:

I’m reaping things I didn’t sow. Several times in recent weeks that truth has popped into my mind.

In John chapter four, there is discussion about followers of Jesus reaping a harvest of new believers after other people sowed Biblical truth into their lives. Maybe we’ll reap people, too! But for now, I’m looking around and acknowledging the current gifts in my life that I didn’t work for:

  • The beautiful purple Clematis that previous owners planted. I’d never had success growing it!
  • A metal arch in our new yard with a vine growing over; something I had on my want list.
  • The fragrant lush rosemary and the light green shrub that’s good for cutting and arranging.
  • Daffodils that popped up out of nowhere; fun and spontaneous.
  • A  screened porch which we’ll really enjoy! Someone who never knew us built it long ago.
  • Miles and miles of walking paths in our new community which I love. I choose routes with views of the lake since I’m a bit obsessed with water.

It takes conscious work to focus on gains rather than losses.

I moved out of state to be with my husband. He has a job which is a fantastic fit for him. After he moved, I focused on our daughter and her upcoming wedding for about a year. I also procrastinated and delayed my move as long as possible. Tom knew how difficult it was for me to leave family, friends and home so he never rushed me or insisted I leave Wilmington. He’s like that.

So often I think, “How would I survive without a relationship with God?” How awesome to have an easy flow of communication with the Father and the entire Trinity. When I don’t know the answer to a conundrum I chat with Him about it and if I really listen and truly want to know, He’ll speak. Not usually in an audible voice, but a voice inside that’s nearly as clear and certain as a human voice. That’s been my experience for the last forty plus years. When I went to Him about moving from Wilmington, He encouraged me to support my husband and celebrate him. I already kind of knew the answer, but this was a big deal and I needed extra confidence—knowing it was all part of God’s plan.

God knew, when He spoke so unmistakably, that four months after my move I’d still find it difficult to drive by our old house. That I’d still almost take the familiar path home and then have a heaviness come over me when I realized my mistake. That our granddaughter, at twenty-two months would say, “There’s Mimi’s house”, when we drove near our old street. Each time sadness breaks into my thoughts, I remember that I made the right decision. I’m so grateful for a Father who cares about all the details.

When I cut some of those beautiful roses, I tried carefully to avoid the thorns but a big one got me! I was both mad and determined. That pain wouldn’t stop me. I thought again of the parallels.

You have to press through difficulty or inconvenience to get at the reward. Pain is often the tool to spur me on.

C. S. Lewis says:

“Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

I’m such a wimp about pain. I hate it. But in retrospect I’m always thankful for what I learn during those hard times, and there have been quite a few of them.

I can’t imagine living several hours away from my husband. We’re having so much fun together– our marriage gets better and better.  God knows what He’s doing! I am blessed.